The European Medicines Agency headquartered in Budapest?

An article in Hungarian business magazine HVG (substantiated by a government decree published in the Official Gazette of Hungary) reports that the Hungarian government would like to have the European Medicines Agency (EMA) relocated to Budapest after Brexit.

In this post we will refrain from indulging in speculation. On the one hand, several ‘big fish’ – Italy, Sweden and Germany, for example – have already announced similar ambitions, and, on the other hand, many experts are still not certain Brexit will actually happen.

This article will examine the prerequisites and potential consequences of the relocation, and the last part will deal with the impact on the local and international translation industries.

Canary Wharf, London - current headquarters of the EMA


It is evident that the EMA is an important organization, even if its size cannot be compared to that of the European Parliament or the European Court of Justice. The EMA hosts seven committees, all of which have delegates (one member and an alternate) from each of the 28 EU member states as well as Iceland and Norway; in addition, up to five additional invited members can take part in the committee meetings as experts. And these numbers only pertain to the committees; the total staff number is around 850, of which (surprisingly) only 7% are British citizens.

In order to host an organization of such size in Budapest, a number of conditions will have to be met:

  • political will: in order to succeed, the Hungarian government and State will have to give their full and unwavering support to this rather complex and costly initiative;
  • successful lobbying: as other EU member states are also seeking to take advantage of this opportunity, the Hungarian representatives will need to do everything they can to ensure the success of the Hungarian proposal;
  • logistics criteria: the building, its accessibility and even international transport potential (the proximity of the airport, direct flights to all EU member states, etc.) all need to be suitable and appropriate for hosting the EMA;
  • human resources: if the organization moves to Hungary, local staff will have to be provided for many positions not filled by EU appointees; local employees will have to be skilled, multilingual employees with expertise in EMA-related issues who can replace the workforce currently provided by the UK. This could mean hundreds of jobs, and, given the current workforce shortage in Hungary, it is important to see in advance how and where the necessary human resources can be found or trained;
  • linguistic needs: this relates to the above problem, but not only to the staff. It is important to know that the EMA, like any EU agency, produces a great quantity of documents that needs translation into the many EU languages. These documents include medicine authorization procedures, decrees, regulations and publications. It is also worth pondering whether the material currently being written in English will be produced in Hungarian, and, if so, who will translate it into Latvian, Lithuanian, Portuguese, etc. Or should English stay the main working language of the EMA (even though English will only be an official language of the EU because of the membership of Malta and Ireland)? And in the absence of British staff, what will be the native language of the people creating these documents? This latter problem, by the way, will affect all EU organizations.

Positive consequences

It is plain to see that moving an important EU agency to Budapest is not only a matter of formal or political prestige; it would (could) also bring considerable economic benefits.

Think only of the functional costs (day-to-day operations, staff necessities, procurement), organizational costs (conference tourism, employee travel and accommodation) and administrative costs (fulfilling the above-mentioned translation and interpreting tasks) and their financing by the EU.

The proximity of the EMA would most probably be beneficial for the local pharmaceutical industry as well.

Some obvious advantages include faster and easier communication between the EMA and the representatives of the pharmaceutical industry as well as the greater number of professional events and conferences.

In the long term, it is worth mentioning the stronger role played by Hungary (and Eastern Europe) within the EU, which would not only help silence Eurosceptics, it would represent a move towards a truly decentralized and not so Western-centric European Union.

But, as our blog is mainly dedicated to translation-related topics, it is time to see the possible implications for our industry.

Translation industry consequences

Whether English remains the main working language and the main language of publication within the EMA or is replaced by Hungarian (or another, ‘bigger’ official EU language), the volume of translation work transferred to Hungary will rise significantly.

As the EMA (and the Translation Centre of the Bodies of the European Union) will probably not be able to cope with all these linguistic needs in-house, it is safe to say that, one way or the other, there will be more work for Hungarian translators in this area of expertise.

If the EMA is to create documents in Hungarian first (which we consider a less probable scenario), the question arises as to whether it is possible to translate these directly into all EU languages? It will not be easy to find translators to translate pharmaceutical regulatory documents from Hungarian into the smaller target languages (Danish, Estonian, Swedish, etc.).

Obviously, the quantity of outsourced material will shift too. Even if English remains the main language of publications and documents, it is probable that the EMA would direct more of its outsourced translation needs towards Hungarian translation partners simply because of their proximity and the ease of communication.

One thing, though, is certain: change. The only question that remains is when the decision on the new EMA headquarters will be made. Two years can be a short time, so if and when the UK does invoke Article 50, quick action will need to be taken to make the necessary arrangements no matter which country wins the race.

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